The government was defeated on the ‘medevac’ bill, but that does not mean the end of the government



File 20190212 174851 1azgk58.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
Cross-benchers Kerryn Phelps, Julia Banks and Rebekah Sharkie celebrate the passing of the Medevac bill.
AAP/Lukas Coch

Anne Twomey, University of Sydney

The Morrison government has been defeated in the House of Representatives by the passage of a government bill containing amendments made against its wishes that allow for the medical evacuation of asylum-seekers from Manus Island and Nauru.

At the last minute, the Speaker tabled, against the wishes of the government, advice from the Solicitor-General raising a constitutional problem with the Senate amendments. In short, those amendments provided for an “independent health advice panel”, of which six members would have to be paid. Their remuneration would come automatically under an existing appropriation in the Remuneration Tribunal Act 1973 for the payment of persons who hold public offices. The effect of the amendments in the bill would therefore have increased the amount payable under that existing appropriation.

This is important, because section 53 of the Constitution says that the “Senate may not amend any proposed law so as to increase any proposed charge or burden on the people”. The argument was that even though the Senate amendments to the bill did not contain an appropriation, they would increase a burden on the people by increasing the amount automatically appropriated under the Remuneration Tribunal Act.




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Whether this is enough to trigger section 53 is a matter of dispute between the houses. Understandably, the House of Representatives has long considered that Senate amendments of that kind do breach section 53, while the Senate takes a different view.

The issue cannot be decided by a court, because the courts have held that section 53 is an internal matter for the houses, and not one to be determined judicially. This was made clear in the recent case on the same-sex marriage postal survey. So even if the houses chose to ignore section 53 and pass a bill that breached its terms, and the validity of the law was challenged, a court would not find it to be invalid.

The consequence was that this was a battlefield for the two houses. In the absence of any judicial precedents, all we have to guide us is parliamentary practice and the competing views of parliamentary committees. These do not provide clear answers. While the houses are under a moral and political obligation to obey the Constitution, this is difficult when the Constitution itself is unclear and its interpretation is disputed.

The government’s action in seeking to declare the bill to be a money bill also raised the political stakes. In order to govern, a government must retain control over government finance. Defeat on a money bill in the House of Representatives is regarded as a loss of confidence, which by convention requires the government to resign or seek an election. For example, the Fadden Government resigned in 1941 when its budget was reduced by the nominal sum of £1. So if the bill was treated as a money bill by the government, its passage against the wishes of the government would have raised a serious issue of whether it could continue governing.

However, the Labor Party moved an amendment to remove any right to payment of officers of the panel. This should mean that it is not a money bill, with the consequence that the constitutional issues about s53 should go away (although there would still be a precedent of the House of Representatives dealing with the Senate amendments, rather than rejecting their validity outright).

The bill still has to pass the Senate. If it does so, it will then be presented to the governor-general for royal assent. I have previously discussed why it would not be wise for the government to advise the governor-general to refuse royal assent. Assuming that royal assent is given, then the medevac amendments will take effect the day after the bill receives royal assent.




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Can the Morrison government continue to govern after its defeat on this bill? Yes. As the bill is no longer a money bill and is not one that the government has declared to be a matter of confidence, the government can continue to govern.

If the House of Representatives has truly lost confidence in the government, it can always move a vote of no confidence to make this clear. Unless that happens, the Morrison government can continue governing until the election is held.The Conversation

Anne Twomey, Professor of Constitutional Law, University of Sydney

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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View from the Hill: Shorten’s victory will bring dangerous counter strikes from a desperate government


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

An extraordinary amount of hype and some confected hysteria preceded Tuesday’s vote on the medical transfer legislation.

The government threw everything at trying to avoid a defeat. In a last stand, it fell back on a constitutional argument – backed by
Solicitor-General advice – that carried no practical weight and was simply circumvented by the majority that passed the bill in the House of Representatives.




Read more:
Crossbenchers must decide between something or nothing on medical transfers bill


While the government frantically attempted to thwart Labor and the crossbench, Scott Morrison also ran the line that he wasn’t that fussed. Afterwards he told a news conference: “Votes will come and votes will go, they do not trouble me.” That claim wouldn’t pass a fact check.

This was a big vote, and everyone knew it. Morrison operates a
minority government and Tuesday’s loss underscored that he can’t
automatically get his way. (Ironically, in the last days of Turnbull’s majority government, the threat of losing a House vote came from internal dissidents.)




Read more:
The government was defeated on the ‘medevac’ bill, but that does not mean the end of the government


The next test for Morrison will be on whether the House agrees to
extra sitting days to discuss the measures from the banking royal
commission. For procedural reasons, this needs 76 votes, one more than the 75 required on the medical transfer bill. The government has been leaning heavily on Bob Katter, the crossbencher who will be the key.

While the government looked rattled as the votes on the medical
transfer bill proceeded, Labor was calm and steely.

For all the talk about Labor’s misjudgement on the issue, this week it has moved cautiously and methodically.

Originally pushed by the crossbench into taking a stand on
humanitarian grounds – the bill is based on a proposal from
independent Kerryn Phelps – Labor has sought to display compassion but contain the political risk.

Bill Shorten, knowing the danger, decided the version of the bill
coming from the Senate (which Labor had supported there) left the ALP too exposed. He flagged last week he’d like a “middle” course.

So the opposition came up with amendments to give the minister wider discretion and more time in making decisions, and to limit the application of the legislation to those on Nauru and Manus now. The latter change was to minimise the “pull” factor – the extent to which the new arrangement would encourage the people smugglers.

Then it was a matter of persuading the required six crossbenchers.
They accepted in the negotiations that a modified bill was better than nothing (though there was some Greens cavilling).

In the House, the ALP troops were kept carefully in check; the emotion was turned down; the speeches from the bill’s supporters were few and brief. Labor just wanted one thing in the chamber – a win. This wasn’t the time to grandstand.

The government, wounded and worried, is seeing this as one (albeit
major) battle in the long war to the election. Its spruikers will say that in defeat it has had a victory – that Labor has given the
Coalition ammunition for the campaign.

It’s true the bill has breathed new life into the border security
debate, but whether this will be enough to do Labor serious harm is an open question. `

The ALP is always vulnerable on boats. On the other hand, boats are lower in voters’ minds than they used to be.

The government will turn up the dial by announcing “contingency plans” against fresh arrivals. Morrison, having accused Shorten of
undermining offshore processing, is already moving on to the claim that he couldn’t be trusted to be strong on turnbacks.

Goodness knows how the politics would play out if a boat appeared on the horizon in the next few weeks. You can be sure, however, that the government would be quick to tell us about it, and point the finger at Shorten.

In all this, the bill itself (which has to go back to the Senate for a tick off on the amendments) should be kept in perspective.

The minister has a veto on “security” grounds, including being able to exclude anyone who has committed a major crime. The composition of the medical panel which would have the final say on other transfers is broad and balanced.

Probably, over a period, there would be a lot of transfers out of the 1000 people offshore. But there have already been nearly 900 (some after legal action). These transfers have amounted to a backdoor route into Australia.

If the legislation in the longer term opens that door a little wider, it will also be a way of “settling” people in Australia without acknowledging that is being done.

More of the same? Or a radical change? It depends how you look at it.The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

We don’t know how many asylum seekers are turned away at Australian airports


Asher Hirsch, Monash University; Daniel Ghezelbash, Macquarie University, and Regina Jefferies, UNSW

The immigration department doesn’t keep a record of how many people apply for asylum at Australian airports, and how many are turned away. Documents released under Freedom of Information show a lack of accountability and oversight by Australian immigration officials with regard to people who request asylum at airports.

This means the ultimate decision to admit or deny an asylum seeker entry into Australia rests with the Border Force official who interviews them. Without oversight, an asylum seeker could be turned away and sent back to a country where they may be at harm, after being interviewed behind closed doors and without access to lawyers.

Last week, ABC’s Four Corners reported that two Saudi women were turned back at Sydney Airport after letting customs officers know they intended to apply for asylum. This has led to concerns Australian Border Force officers may be deliberately targeting and blocking Saudi Arabian women, who they suspect may apply for asylum, from entering the country.

Until 2014, a person could apply for a permanent protection visa before being cleared at customs, also known as immigration clearance. However, amendments passed in 2014 mean those stopped before being cleared can only apply for a three-year temporary protection visa or a five-year safe haven visa.

Had the two women not disclosed their intention to seek asylum at the airport, they would generally have been cleared at customs and allowed to enter Australia. They would be able to apply for a permanent protection visa after leaving the airport.

But by making an asylum claim at the airport, they were subsequently detained and then deported from Australia without a chance to apply for protection, or access to lawyers, in violation of Migration Act.

The ABC report suggested at least 80 Saudi women have sought asylum in Australia in recent years, many of them fleeing Saudi Arabia’s male guardianship laws, which allow their husbands, fathers, brothers, uncles and sons to control their lives.




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A response from the Department of Home Affairs to a Freedom of Information request for the number of individuals who have made protection claims before, or at, immigration clearance at airports since 2008, said:

the location of the applicant in Australia at the time of lodgement … is not relevant to the assessment of the applicant’s asylum claims, and therefore is not recorded in the Department’s database. As such, the Department does not hold existing documents as falling in the scope of the request.

But this can’t be correct given the disparity between the safeguards available before and after an asylum seeker clears customs.

Asylum seekers who have passed through customs can appeal their application for protection if it is rejected in the first instance.
from shutterstock.com

Australia has non-refoulement obligations under the 1951 Refugee Convention, various human rights treaties and customary international law. These prohibit the return of asylum seekers to places where they would face certain types of persecution or harm.

This extends to returning asylum seekers to transit countries where they may fear harm, or be at risk of being returned to their home country where they fear harm.

As part of the non-refoulement obligation, Australia must fairly and efficiently assess the claims of any person who applies for asylum under its territory or jurisdiction. Australia may not remove, or refuse admission at the border to, an asylum-seeker while considering that individual’s claim.

The demarcation of immigration clearance zones, or international zones has no consequence to Australia’s obligations under international law.

The Department of Home Affairs sets out the procedures to follow when an asylum claim is made at immigration clearance. The policies – which cannot be accessed publicly, but we have provided screenshots here – require that “if the person raises protection related claims, the interviewing officer should interview the person for a second time and explore the protection claims”.




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If the person “makes a prima facie protection claim that is not considered to be ‘far-fetched and fanciful’, they are considered to be a person who potentially engages Australia’s non‑refoulement obligations” and must be permitted to enter Australia.

We do not know whether the department followed its own policies in the case of the two Saudi women. The interviews took place behind closed doors, and the minister has not made a comment on the cases. Even if the policy was followed, it still leaves much discretion to the interviewing officer.

There are no clear standards that must be followed when determining whether a claim meets the threshold of not being “far-fetched and fanciful”. The words are not found in the Migration Act, or the Migration Regulations, which govern migration determinations.

If Australia returned these women without a proper consideration of their asylum claims, it will be in breach of its international obligations. The failure to keep or share these statistics compounds the lack of accountability.The Conversation

Asher Hirsch, PhD Candidate, Monash University; Daniel Ghezelbash, Senior Lecturer, Macquarie Law School, Macquarie University, and Regina Jefferies, Scientia PhD Scholar, UNSW

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Morrison may reopen the Christmas Island detention centre


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Scott Morrison has foreshadowed the re-opening of the Christmas Island detention facility, announcing his government would be stepping up border security after the medical transfer bill passed the Senate on Wednesday.

The legislation was carried 36-34, with the support of Labor, Greens, Centre Alliance, Tim Storer, and Derryn Hinch – who delayed revealing his position until after he was briefed on security issues.

Morrison told a news conference cabinet’s national security committee had met early Wednesday to discuss the contingency planning already in train in anticipation of the bill’s passage.

“A range of strengthenings” had been put in place in the border operations.

He hinted at an advertising campaign in Indonesia and elsewhere.

“I’ll be engaging in direct messaging as part of Operation Sovereign Borders with people smugglers and with those who might be thinking of getting on boats,” he said.

“I’m going to be engaged in very clear and direct messaging to anyone who thinks they should get on a boat, I’m here. And I will stop you.”

He would be sending the very clear message “that my government is in control of the borders. As long as my government is here you can expect strong border protection and resolve to be in place.

“Under a Labor government you can expect them to see fold like a pack of cards, like Bill Shorten did yesterday”.

Morrison stressed all the government’s actions and decisions were
implementing the recommendations of the security agencies and
officials presented to the cabinet committee on Wednesday morning.

Declining to go into detail about the measures he said: “This
parliament has already tipped its hand enough to the people
smugglers”.

He said the government had approved “putting in place the reopening of the Christmas Island detention facilities, both to deal with the prospect of arrivals as well as dealing with the prospect of transfers”.

The government at the weekend released a costing of reopening
Christmas Island at more than $1 billion over several years.

People transferred from Nauru and Manus for medical care can be kept in detention or released into the community.

Labor Senate leader Penny Wong told the Senate the government was telling lies about the bill.

“They are doing it because they are desperate. They are desperate.
They are led by a desperate prime minister, who is leading a bitterly divided government. He is clearly only concerned about one thing: clinging on to his job, she said.

“Rather than running these lies, why don’t you just call an election?”

Hinch said he had been swayed by the amendment specifying the
legislation would apply only to the present cohort on Manus and Nauru.

“It is not an encouragement, I believe, to people smugglers who are despicable and should be despised, because it will only apply to people who are there.”The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Explainer: how will the ‘medevac’ bill actually affect ill asylum seekers?


Nicholas Procter, University of South Australia and Mary Anne Kenny, Murdoch University

Both the House of Representatives and the Senate have now passed amendments to the Migration Act 1958 that allow for the medical evacuation of asylum-seekers from Manus Island and Nauru. These amendments are also known as the medevac bill.

So, how will the situation for asylum seekers and refugees on Manus Island and Nauru change with the provisions in place?




Read more:
The government was defeated on the ‘medevac’ bill, but that does not mean the end of the government


What’s in the Bill?

The medevac bill allows for the transfer of asylum seekers or refugees on Nauru or Manus Island to Australia for “medical or psychiatric assessment or treatment”. Family members will also be transferred if recommended.

It gives a clear pathway for medical specialists to make medical decisions. Two doctors must assess – either in person or remotely – the person and make the recommendation for transfer. The criteria used in the initial assessment and in any review is that the person:

  • needs medical or psychiatric assessment or treatment
  • is not receiving appropriate medical or psychiatric assessment or treatment in Nauru or Manus Island, and
  • must be transferred for appropriate medical or psychiatric assessment or treatment.

The recommendation is given to the Minister for Home Affairs who must either approve or refuse the transfer within 72 hours. The minister can refuse the transfer if the person has an adverse security assessment or if the person has a “substantial criminal record”.

The minister may also refuse the recommendation on the basis he does not accept the transfer is necessary on medical grounds. In those cases an expert medical panel – known as the Independent Health Advice Panel (IHAP) – would be formed to reassess the recommended transfer.




Read more:
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If the panel recommends the person’s transfer should be approved, the minister must transfer the person unless satisfied there are security or character grounds for refusing the transfer.

The panel will consist of at least eight members, including the Chief Medical Officer for the government, the Department of Home Affair’s Chief Medical Officer and the Surgeon-General of the Australian Border Force. Other members would be appointed by the minister based on nominations by various professional medical bodies.

Medical transfers to Australia are for a temporary period only, so those currently in Australia could still be returned to Nauru or Manus Island following their treatment. This will continue to be the case even now this bill is passed.

These procedures are only applicable to asylum seekers and refugees who are on Nauru and Manus Island currently. The law will not apply to anyone who comes after the passage of this bill. Anyone brought to Australia for medical treatment must be kept in onshore immigration detention.

Three examples

Medical transfers that have occurred to date are mostly for psychiatric reasons or a combination of psychiatric and other medical reasons. The importance of provided, rapid medical assessment and response to critically ill, or at-risk-of-dying, refugees and asylum seekers cannot be overstated.

Under the provisions of the medevac bill, asylum seekers with medical or psychiatric conditions can be transferred to Australia.
from shutterstock.com

In August, 2014 a 24-year-old Iranian detainee on Manus Island, Hamid Khazaei, fell ill and presented to clinicians at the detention centre with “flu-like symptoms” and a small lesion on his leg. After a course of antibiotics, his condition deteriorated and he was transferred to a hospital in Papua New Guinea. He died a few days later.

A coronial inquest identified ambiguous and deficient policies for emergency evacuation, finding Mr Khazaei’s death was preventable. If his clinical deterioration was recognised and responded to in a timely manner, and he was evacuated to Australia within 24 hours of developing severe sepsis, Khazaei could have survived.

Medical evacuations are time sensitive because of the nature of the emergency and the logistics of the transfer itself. Were the provisions of the medevac bill in place at the time, independent expert overview of clinical decisions could have saved Khazaei’s life.

Another case was that of a refugee woman on Nauru who attempted suicide. An order was made for her to be urgently transferred to Australia. This was based on reports from a psychiatrist and a surgeon who expressed concerns that, without urgent surgical intervention, she could develop peritonitis (a life-threatening inflammation resulting from her suicide attempt) and die.

This case was heard by the Federal Court within four days of her attempt. Evidence demonstrated she needed complicated surgical intervention and psychiatric care that appeared not to be available on Nauru. Medical evacuation to Australia was requested as soon as possible, and the woman was brought to Australia.




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With the medevac provisions in place, the woman could have been brought to Australia earlier for an independent assessment of her physical and mental health prior to her situation deteriorating to a point where emergency management was required. The costs and delays involved in seeking intervention of the courts to order medical evacuations would also have been reduced with the provisions in place.

Another recent case involved a 46-year-old refugee on Manus Island who had lost vision in his right eye after a traumatic injury during a riot on the island. Vision in his left eye was also deteriorating and there was a lack of appropriate treatment in PNG. His mental health had also deteriorated to a point where he was assessed as being at high risk of suicide.

The evidence was that Manus Island did not have adequate facilities to treat his physical deterioration and suicidality. The court ordered his transfer to Australia as soon as possible for assessment and treatment.

Again, this man could have been brought to Australia earlier for an independent assessment, prior to emergency life saving treatment being required. The bill’s provisions will now allow for this. This translates to continuity and consistency of care and reduced deadlocks over treatment decisions.

Medical care can’t be political

Aside from being a circuit breaker to current arrangements, the bill is a new opportunity to establish agreed governance arrangements and a clinical pathway for recognising and responding to medical need without political interference. In the past bureaucrats and politicians have invalidated medical evidence and clinical decision making processes.

To provide safe and high quality care to refugees and asylum seekers based on medically assessed need, independent medical experts must be provided with all available relevant information about the patient. Giving the best medical and health advice must be free from delay and political interference.The Conversation

Nicholas Procter, Professor and Chair: Mental Health Nursing, University of South Australia and Mary Anne Kenny, Associate Professor, School of Law, Murdoch University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Morrison government defeated on medical bill, despite constitution play


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

The government has suffered a historic defeat in the House of Representatives, with Labor and crossbenchers passing the legislation facilitating medical transfers from Manus and Nauru by 75-74.

This came after a dramatic last-minute government ploy to try to head off the bill by declaring it was unconstitutional and so should not be considered by the House.

But Labor and the crossbench pressed on, with six of the seven crossbenchers backing the ALP amendment to the bill that had come from the Senate.

They were Kerryn Phelps, on whose proposal the legislation is based, Andrew Wilkie, Cathy McGowan, Rebekha Sharkie, Julia Banks and the Greens Adam Bandt. The other crossbencher Bob Katter voted with the government.

The last times governments were defeated on major substantive votes were the Fadden government in 1941 (on a budget vote) and the Bruce government on legislation in 1929.

Before the bill was considered Speaker Tony Smith tabled correspondence from Attorney-General Christian Porter saying the bill, passed by the Senate last year, contravened the constitution’s Section 53.

This provides that the Senate “may not amend any proposed law so as to increase any proposed charge or burden on the people”.

The Solicitor-General, Stephen Donaghue, said in an opinion that the bill breached Section 53 because the medical panel it would set up would be paid.

But the opinion also said it was “ultimately for the House of Representatives to decide whether it considers the Senate amendments to be consistent” with Section 53, and the matter was not justiciable.

In his letter to Smith, Porter asked the Speaker to keep the Solicitor-General’s opinion confidential but Smith said the House should have it and tabled it with Porter’s letter.

The vote culminated a day of drama as Labor negotiated its amendments to the bill as passed by the Senate with its support.




Read more:
Why a government would be mad to advise the refusal of royal assent to a bill passed against its will


These widen the grounds on which a minister could refuse a transfer to cover those with a substantial criminal record, allow the minister up to 72 hours (instead of 24) for making a decision on transfers, and confine the application of the legislation to the present cohort of refugees and asylum seekers.

Labor moved to circumvent the Section 53 issue by adding a further amendment providing that members of the medical panel not be paid.

Leader of the House Christopher Pyne declared Labor and the crossbenchers “don’t care about the Australian constitution”.
“The English fought a civil war over this matter,” he said.

Bill Shorten said: “This bill and our amendments are about Australia’s character.
It’s about how we treat sick people in our care.”




Read more:
View from the Hill: Shorten’s victory will bring dangerous counter strikes from a desperate government


Scott Morrison said Labor was “failing the test of mettle … failing the test of duty to the Australian people. This is now on your head, Leader of the Opposition.”

The final vote came after the government lost procedural votes by the same margin.

The bill has to go back to the Senate to approve the amendments passed in the House.

Morrison told a Tuesday night news conference that the vote had not been unexpected and the government had already been working on contingency plans.

He would have “more announcements to make about the actions and decisions the government will be taking to address now the risk and the threat that Labor and Bill Shorten have created”.

He indicated the government would not frustrate the bill getting royal assent once it passed the Senate. Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton told the ABC the government would abide by the law.

Morrison dismissed any suggestion that the defeat amounted to a no confidence motion in the government, referring back to what Phelps had said. Phelps has consistently emphasised the bill should not be viewed as a confidence matter.

The Prime Minister also played down the historic nature of the defeat, pointing to the Labor government losing a vote on superannuation in 2013.

The government will use the Labor success to ramp up its attack on the opposition. In the run up to the vote Morrison has turned up the rhetoric, accusing Labor of undermining offshore processing.

At his press conference Morrison said that Shorten would also be weak on turning back boats. Shorten “can’t be trusted to do that either,” he said.The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Vital Signs. If needed, this man can and will cut rates during the election campaign


Richard Holden, UNSW

It was a great story.

Philip Lowe had taken over as Reserve Bank governor after 25 years of uninterrupted economic growth. The Australian economy was transitioning nicely away from the country’s biggest-ever mining boom. Interest rates had been cut to historic lows in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis and had bottomed out. Inflation and wages growth were about to pick up. Unemployment was falling. And the new governor would preside over a return to “new normal”, with gradual rate rises up to a cash rate of 3.5-4.0%.

Then a funny thing happened on the way to the fairytale ending.

In a remarkable speech at the National Press Club on Wednesday, Lowe essentially admitted that the bank might well need to take extra remedial action to get the economy moving again.

Gone was the mantra that “the next movement in interest rate will likely be up”. Rather, Lowe said:

…here are scenarios where the next move in the cash rate is up, and other scenarios where it is down. Over the past year, the next-move-is-up scenarios were more likely than the next-move-is-down scenarios. Today, the probabilities appear to be more evenly balanced.

Translation: “I don’t want to freak you out, but we’re probably going to have to cut rates. And do it sooner rather than later.”

Consider the two main things driving the Reserve Bank’s decision.

Inflation is stubbornly low. As I pointed out last week, the bank has long had an inflation target of 2-3%, but it keeps undershooting it, and not just missing the centre, but missing the lower bound. In two and a half years with Lowe as governor, inflation has averaged just 1.87% – and has never been inside the target band. The latest figure is 1.8%.



Related to that, wages growth is anaemic. For five years it has barely kept up with inflation.

This is broadly true in advanced economies around the world (although our wages are doing worse than those in the United States) and suggests the unemployment rate will need to be pushed down further than in the past in order to reignite wages pressure and hence inflation. That suggests we’ll need even lower interest rates than we’ve got in order to provide what the boffins call monetary stimulus.



And the Reserve Bank’s cash rate — the rate that most other rates are set in reference to — is already the lowest on record, at just 1.5%.

Meanwhile, the housing market has taken a big hit, which isn’t over. Nationwide, the market is down 6.1% from its October 2017 peak. In Sydney and Melbourne, the falls are double that.

They are the mainly the result of a credit crunch that flowed from the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority’s decision to wake from its multi-year slumber and tighten lending rules at about the same time the banks responded to the royal commission by impersonating frightened turtles.

Sinking property prices sink spending

Sliding property prices shrink household spending, which makes up roughly 60% of economic activity.

On Tuesday, in the statement it released after its first board meeting for the year, the bank obliquely signalled that it had cut its GDP growth forecasts, mentioning forecasts of 3% this year and less in 2020 instead of the 3.5% this year and less in 2020 it had mentioned after its December meeting.

Add in the global headwinds from the US-China trade tensions and the fallout from the bungled Brexit, and it’s hard to find much that’s encouraging about the Australian economy in the year ahead.

Lowe didn’t want to state explicitly that he might have to cut rates between now and the election (and if necessary during the campaign itself), but he didn’t need to. He has been as clear as governors get.

Rates could be cut on budget day

A decent bet is the bank will cut 25 points on the first Tuesday in May, after the release of the updated (and possibly weak) inflation data on April 24.

Another possible date is the first Tuesday in April, April 2, after the March release of the December quarter economic growth figures, especially if economic growth turns negative. Coincidentally, April 2 is the day the government has set aside for the early budget, so it can hold the election in May.

If it does there will be some who will try to spin it as good news. In 2007 John Howard campaigned under the slogan that rates would be “lower under the Coalition”.

Don’t think it couldn’t happen

His treasurer Peter Costello was under the impression the bank wouldn’t dare move rate during the campaign, unwisely telling broadcaster Jon Faine it would keep them put.

“He looked me in the eye. He put his thumb down as he sat there…and he said, ‘There will not be a rate rise in November. Take it from me’,” Faine said.

Having marked out the territory, there is no doubt the bank will use it if needed. To do otherwise would be to invite questions about whether it had favoured one party or the other by holding off.

The hard truth is that we live in a secular-stagnation world, with too much saving chasing too few profitable investment opportunities.

Rates no longer need to be particularly high

That means that interest rates don’t need to be anything like as high as they once did to attract enough money to fund good ideas. And even if the ideas are good, it is likely they won’t need as much money as they did. Whereas once it took tens of billions of dollars to create a globally significant company (like BHP or US Steel) all it takes now is maybe $2,000 and a laptop, as with Facebook and Google.

A massive mining boom caused by the transition of China to a market economy and then a huge property bubble masked the new reality here for while.

Now it is here for all to see, the Reserve Bank governor included.




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No surplus, no share market growth, no lift in wage growth. Economic survey points to bleaker times post-election


The Conversation


Richard Holden, Professor of Economics, UNSW

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Why are Australians still using Facebook?


Deborah Lupton, UNSW

This weeks marks 15 years since Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg first set up the platform with his college roommate Eduardo Saverin. Since then, Facebook has grown into a giant global enterprise.

The platform now has more than 2.32 billion monthly users and ranks fifth in terms of market value among the world’s top internet companies.

Facebook hasn’t escaped without scandal. It’s been subject to data breaches and allegations that it has failed to protect user privacy. Reports suggest that numerous Facebook users have responded to these incidents by giving up the platform.

But the data say otherwise. Preliminary findings from my recent research suggest that although Australian Facebook users do care about the privacy and security of their personal information, this is not enough to drive them to leave the platform.




Read more:
3 ways Facebook and other social media companies could clean up their acts – if they wanted to


The scandals: Australians didn’t leave Facebook

One of the most prominent scandals Facebook has been caught up in involves allegations made in March 2018: that analytics company Cambridge Analytica was using personal data from Facebook users to help political parties in their election campaigns.

This, and other news stories about Facebook’s use of user data, received widespread international attention, including significant coverage in Australia. Numerous news reports claimed that large numbers of Australians were deleting their Facebook accounts as part of the #DeleteFacebook trend. As one news story contended:

Many Australians are for the first time discovering just how much Facebook knows about them and many are shocked, leading them to quit the platform.

Statistics on Australians’ use of Facebook, however, show no change in numbers since the Cambridge Analytica scandal first received public attention. There were 15 million active monthly Facebook users 12 months ago (just before the scandal erupted) and this figure remained steady over the course of the year. Facebook is still far and above the most highly used social media platform in Australia.

The study: what I wanted to know

In September and October 2018, I conducted a study involving in-depth telephone interviews with 30 Australians who were current or past Facebook users.

An equal number of females and males participated across a broad age distribution (10 participants aged 18-40, 10 participants aged 41-60, and 10 participants aged 61 and over) and geographical distribution (10 participants living in rural towns or areas, 20 participants living in cities or major towns).

During the interview, the participants were asked:

  • whether they were bothered or concerned about Facebook’s use of information about them
  • if they had ever changed their use of Facebook or privacy settings in response to these concerns
  • what kinds of personal information they would not want internet companies like Facebook or apps to access or use
  • what steps these companies should take to protect users’ information.

In the interview questions there was no direct mention of Cambridge Analytica or any other scandal about Facebook. I wanted to see if participants spontaneously raised these events and issues in their responses.




Read more:
Facebook is all for community, but what kind of community is it building?


The benefits: it’s all about connecting

The findings show people continue to use Facebook for a wide variety of reasons. For some people, their business depended on their active Facebook use, so they could advertise their offerings and connect with potential clients:

I know that if I did delete it, I’d be harming myself and my business, so yes, so that’s kind of the main reason I keep it.

For most people, however, the key incentive was the desire to connect with family and friends. This included being able to find old friends and reconnect with them, as well as maintaining ties with current friends and family members.

Several people commented that using Facebook was the best way of knowing about the lives of their adult children, grandchildren or other young relatives.

That’s the only thing that’s kept me on there – because my kids are on there and I just want to see what they’re doing, and what and who they’re hanging around with.

For others, being part of a community (for example, a health-related group) was an important way of alleviating isolation and loneliness.

These comments suggest Facebook is an important tool to support social interactions in a world in which people are more dispersed and physically separated from friends and family.

The drawbacks: mundane trivia, too many ads

The drawbacks of being on Facebook reported by participants included feeling annoyed by aspects such as having to see other people’s mundane trivia, random friend requests or too many ads:

Sometimes there’s a lot of nonsense that goes up on there, people posting you don’t want to get involved in, or I think it’s stupid or rude or whatever it may be.

Some people also talked about not liking feeling that you are being watched, and their anxiety about their personal information being accessed and identity theft or bank details being stolen. However, these issues were not considered serious enough for them to leave Facebook.

Apart from targeted advertising, most people were unsure how Facebook might use their personal information. Very few participants mentioned the Cambridge Analytica scandal or related issues, such as the use of Facebook for political campaigning or to disseminate “fake news”. Even when they did refer to these issues, they had difficulty explaining exactly how personal data were involved:

Well, I know Facebook collected the data for that Cambridge business and they collected it via a quiz with an app, and then passed it on to other parties. So I think that’s all they do. I think it’s just maybe for them to earn money off it. I don’t really know.

Data privacy: employing workarounds to stay on Facebook

Most people thought they were careful in not revealing too much information about themselves on Facebook, and therefore protected their data. They reported engaging in practices such as avoiding uploading details about themselves, limiting their number of friends or the type of friends, blocking or unfriending people who annoyed them, clearing their history regularly and being very selective about what photos to upload (including of their children).

Several people mentioned they had recently checked and changed their privacy settings, often in response to a prompt from Facebook to do so:

I keep my personal stuff to myself, and then I share what I want to share through my friends. And I’ve got strict privacy things in place so that I only get things to people that I know, rather than people I don’t know. So that’s fine with me.




Read more:
Amazon, Facebook and Google don’t need to spy on your conversations to know what you’re talking about


These findings show it’s not so much that Australian Facebook users don’t care about their personal data privacy and security. They do think about these issues and have their own ways of managing them.

Australians think Facebook serves them well. They consider other people’s over-sharing or having to see too many ads as more of a problem than alleged political manipulation or other misuse of their information by Facebook.The Conversation

Deborah Lupton, SHARP Professor, UNSW

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Don’t click that link! How criminals access your digital devices and what happens when they do



File 20190207 174851 1lwq94r.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
A link is a mechanism for data to be delivered to your device.
Unsplash/Marvin Tolentino

Richard Matthews, University of Adelaide and Kieren Niĉolas Lovell, Tallinn University of Technology

Every day, often multiple times a day, you are invited to click on links sent to you by brands, politicians, friends and strangers. You download apps on your devices. Maybe you use QR codes.

Most of these activities are secure because they come from sources that can be trusted. But sometimes criminals impersonate trustworthy sources to get you to click on a link (or download an app) that contains malware.

At its core, a link is just a mechanism for data to be delivered to your device. Code can be built into a website which redirects you to another site and downloads malware to your device en route to your actual destination.

When you click on unverified links or download suspicious apps you increase the risk of exposure to malware. Here’s what could happen if you do – and how you can minimise your risk.




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What is malware?

Malware is defined as malicious code that:

will have adverse impact on the confidentiality, integrity, or availability of an information system.

In the past, malware described malicious code that took the form of viruses, worms or Trojan horses.

Viruses embedded themselves in genuine programs and relied on these programs to propagate. Worms were generally stand alone programs that could install themselves using a network, USB or email program to infect other computers.

Trojan horses took their name from the gift to the Greeks during the Trojan war in Homer’s Odyssey. Much like the wooden horse, a Trojan Horse looks like a normal file until some predetermined action causes the code to execute.

Today’s generation of attacker tools are far more sophisticated, and are often a blend of these techniques.

These so-called “blended attacks” rely heavily on social engineering – the ability to manipulate someone to doing something they wouldn’t normally do – and are often categorised by what they ultimately will do to your systems.

What does malware do?

Today’s malware comes in easy to use, customised toolkits distributed on the dark web or by well meaning security researchers attempting to fix problems.

With a click of a button, attackers can use these toolkits to send phishing emails and spam SMS messages to eploy various types of malware. Here are some of them.

https://datawrapper.dwcdn.net/QDA3R/2/

  • a remote administration tool (RAT) can be used to access a computer’s camera, microphone and install other types of malware

  • keyloggers can be used to monitor for passwords, credit card details and email addresses

  • ransomware is used to encrypt private files and then demand payment in return for the password

  • botnets are used for distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks and other illegal activities. DDoS attacks can flood a website with so much virtual traffic that it shuts down, much like a shop being filled with so many customers you are unable to move.

  • crytptominers will use your computer hardware to mine cryptocurrency, which will slow your computer down

  • hijacking or defacement attacks are used to deface a site or embarrass you by posting pornographic material to your social media

An example of a defacement attack on The Utah Office of Tourism Industry from 2017.
Wordfence



Read more:
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How does malware end up on your device?

According to insurance claim data of businesses based in the UK, over 66% of cyber incidents are caused by employee error. Although the data attributes only 3% of these attacks to social engineering, our experience suggests the majority of these attacks would have started this way.

For example, by employees not following dedicated IT and information security policies, not being informed of how much of their digital footprint has been exposed online, or simply being taken advantage of. Merely posting what you are having for dinner on social media can open you up to attack from a well trained social engineer.

QR codes are equally as risky if users open the link the QR codes point to without first validating where it was heading, as indicated by this 2012 study.

Even opening an image in a web browser and running a mouse over it can lead to malware being installed. This is quite a useful delivery tool considering the advertising material you see on popular websites.

Fake apps have also been discovered on both the Apple and Google Play stores. Many of these attempt to steal login credentials by mimicking well known banking applications.

Sometimes malware is placed on your device by someone who wants to track you. In 2010, the Lower Merion School District settled two lawsuits brought against them for violating students’ privacy and secretly recording using the web camera of loaned school laptops.

What can you do to avoid it?

In the case of the the Lower Merion School District, students and teachers suspected they were being monitored because they “saw the green light next to the webcam on their laptops turn on momentarily.”

While this is a great indicator, many hacker tools will ensure webcam lights are turned off to avoid raising suspicion. On-screen cues can give you a false sense of security, especially if you don’t realise that the microphone is always being accessed for verbal cues or other forms of tracking.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg covers the webcam of his computer. It’s commonplace to see information security professionals do the same.
iphonedigital/flickr

Basic awareness of the risks in cyberspace will go a long the way to mitigating them. This is called cyber hygiene.

Using good, up to date virus and malware scanning software is crucial. However, the most important tip is to update your device to ensure it has the latest security updates.

Hover over links in an email to see where you are really going. Avoid shortened links, such as bit.ly and QR codes, unless you can check where the link is going by using a URL expander.

What to do if you already clicked?

If you suspect you have malware on your system, there are simple steps you can take.

Open your webcam application. If you can’t access the device because it is already in use this is a telltale sign that you might be infected. Higher than normal battery usage or a machine running hotter than usual are also good indicators that something isn’t quite right.

Make sure you have good anti-virus and anti-malware software installed. Estonian start-ups, such as Malware Bytes and Seguru, can be installed on your phone as well as your desktop to provide real time protection. If you are running a website, make sure you have good security installed. Wordfence works well for WordPress blogs.

More importantly though, make sure you know how much data about you has already been exposed. Google yourself – including a Google image search against your profile picture – to see what is online.

Check all your email addresses on the website haveibeenpwned.com to see whether your passwords have been exposed. Then make sure you never use any passwords again on other services. Basically, treat them as compromised.

Cyber security has technical aspects, but remember: any attack that doesn’t affect a person or an organisation is just a technical hitch. Cyber attacks are a human problem.

The more you know about your own digital presence, the better prepared you will be. All of our individual efforts better secure our organisations, our schools, and our family and friends.The Conversation

Richard Matthews, Lecturer Entrepreneurship, Commercialisation and Innovation Centre | PhD Candidate in Image Forensics and Cyber | Councillor, University of Adelaide and Kieren Niĉolas Lovell, Head of TalTech Computer Emergency Response Team, Tallinn University of Technology

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Forty years on from the Iranian Revolution, could the country be at risk of another one?



File 20190211 174880 1r6pcj5.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
The last four decades in Iran have been marked by internal tension due to its political system, which combines theocratic and republican elements.
from shutterstock.com

Naser Ghobadzadeh, Australian Catholic University

Iran’s ruling clergy are celebrating the 40th anniversary of the 1979 revolution, during which Shi’ite Islamists, led by religious leader Ayatollah Khomeini, toppled Mohammad Reza Shah’s secular monarchy.

The linchpin of the Islamic Republic’s political system is Ayatollah Khomeini’s doctrine of Wilayat-i Faqih, or guardianship of the jurist, which makes a Shia religious jurist the head of state. The jurist’s legitimacy to hold the most powerful position in the state is claimed to be based on divine sovereignty.

As its name suggests, the Islamic Republic of Iran’s current system combines theocratic and republican elements. The president and parliament are democratically elected, while the members of powerful institutions such as the Guardian Council and the judiciary are appointed by the Supreme Leader (Walī-yi Faqīh).

The Guardian Council oversees elections and the final approval of legislation. According to the Constitution of the Islamic Republic, all legislation, policies and programs must be consistent with the observance of Islamic principles.
The Guardian Council has a duty to monitor all legislative decisions and determine whether their implementation would cause a violation.




Read more:
World politics explainer: the Iranian Revolution


This unprecedented political system brought in four decades of internal conflict. The established Islamic Republic of Iran also ceased being a US ally and instead became an enemy. International sanctions, along with the clergy’s mismanagement and endemic corruption, have resulted in a dire economic situation. There is a strong fear the high unemployment and inflation rate will continue to rise.

Under these circumstances, there are now doubts the Islamic Republic can survive. And some wonder whether we may soon see another revolution. So, what is the situation in Iran 40 years after the Shah was overthrown and who is agitating for change?

Decades of unrest

After Ayatollah Khomeini died in 1989, a more conservative Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, came to power and strengthened the theocracy.

The reformist movement emerged in the mid-1990s to counter the newly established conservative regime. They had little chance of gaining power through theocratic institutions, so they focused on the electoral side. They campaigned for women’s rights, democratic rule and a civil-military divide.

Reformists gained power twice: from 1997 to 2005 and from 2013 – with the election of the relatively moderate president, Hassan Rouhani – until now. In these years, reformists controlled electoral institutions such as the presidency and the parliament.

For decades, reformers have struggled to limit the power of theocratic institutions – while still broadly complying by the laws of the clergy, and the principles set in place by Khomeini – and expand the power of republican institutions. However, they were no match for the Khamenei-led resistance, and theocratic institutions are more powerful today than they were in the mid-1990s.

Iran has also continually had tense relations with the international community. In addition to eight years of war with Iraq, Iran has been under sanctions for almost all of the past four decades. These have been imposed by the US, the EU, and the United Nations over claims Iran breached its nuclear obligations.




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Why the Iran nuclear agreement is a deal worth honouring


Today, the Donald Trump-led US government is pursuing an extremely hostile approach to Iran. Crucially, the US has withdrawn from a nuclear deal negotiated with the Obama administration – under which Iran agreed to limit its nuclear program. The US has reapplied previous sanctions (which were lifted under the deal) and imposed new ones. Iranians are also the most affected of the Muslim majority countries included in Trump’s travel ban.

Reformists have made some progress towards easing economic hardship, loosening social control, and initiating a temporary easing of tensions with the outside community. But the parlous nature of the political structure empowers the theocrats to manipulate the system and stymie any reform effort that promises a path to democratisation.

Reformists or pro-regime opposition

The protests that swept Iran between December 2017 and January 2018 showed that many Iranians don’t consider the reformists capable of bringing about meaningful change. Protestors expressed their anger over increasing economic hardship, as well as Iran’s support and funding for foreign conflicts, namely the civil wars in Yemen and Syria. They also chanted slogans calling for an end to the rule of clerics.

Rampant corruption, the failure of Rouhani to fulfil his promises – such as boosting the economy, extending individual and political freedoms, ensuring equality for women and men, and easing access to the internet – and the return of sanctions have combined to shatter hope of reform. This has been expressed in global protests by the Iranian diaspora calling for a change to the government.

It seems unlikely the reformists will be able to maintain their positions in the country’s electoral institutions. The sad reality is that even if they have another chance, the result will only compound their failures.




Read more:
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These circumstances have led to another stream of opposition – one agitating for a toppling of the Islamic Republic and regime change – gaining currency. Most members of this group are in exile, including Iran’s ex-prince and son of the Shah overthrown by the revolution, Reza Pahlavi.

But there is profound disagreement between the opposition groups in exile. Although they share a similar goal, they have consistently proven unable to agree on an overarching framework. The profound divisions among the groups has drained both their resources and intellectual capacity, which has rendered them incapable of contesting the country’s ruling clergy.

Those advocating for regime change have also been incapable of articulating a viable alternative to the Islamic Republic. All opposition groups overuse the abstract notion of “secular democracy” without clearly explaining what exactly they have in mind.

Pahlavi’s desire is reportedly not to put himself back on the throne, but to let the people decide what the political system would look like. He has said:

It’s not the form that matters, it’s the content; I believe Iran must be a secular, parliamentary democracy. The final form has to be decided by the people.

While this is a legitimate statement, figures like Pahlavi ought to offer viable alternatives that would help bring opposition groups together. Potential alternatives should also be structured to appeal to the masses, a considerable segment of whom have expressed disillusionment with the ideal of an Islamic state.

Opposition groups are absorbed in delegitimising the Islamic Republic, questioning the way the clergy run the country. In doing so, they forget the the people who have already expressed widespread dissatisfaction with the clergy.

The opposition needs to skilfully craft an alternative to the Islamic Republic and a comprehensive plan for the transition to democracy. Until an alternative political system is formulated and popularised, the opposition will remain impotent and unable to initiate a transformation in the country.

Of course, change is not impossible. A military confrontation with Israel or the US, the departure of 79-year-old Ayatollah Khamenei, or a spontaneous mass uprising could prove a game changer.The Conversation

Naser Ghobadzadeh, Senior lecturer, National School of Arts, Australian Catholic University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.